TORONTO — Steven Stamkos didn't need to hear the question before he blurted the answer.
Given his league-best 21 goals in 24 games, which helped fuel speculation he might get 50 in 50; that he is returning to what basically is his hometown …
"It's going to be a zoo," he said of the media crush expected for tonight's game with the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
But he said it smiling.
"Any time I've been there, it's been pretty crazy," said the Lightning center, who grew up in nearby Unionville. "For me, it's fun. It's fun going home and talking with all the media and then seeing friends and family. I look forward to it."
That's pretty mature stuff for a 20-year-old, but not surprising. As good as Stamkos has been on the ice, he has been as good off it.
Win or lose, good game or bad, Stamkos is at his locker to face the media. And when reporters in different cities ask the same questions — Can he score 50 in 50? What makes his one-timer so good? — he is more than patient, lessons Stamkos said he learned from parents Chris and Lesley and his minor-league coaches.
"It's simple," Stamkos said. "It's a common respect factor for people who are doing their jobs."
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Chris Stamkos said he doesn't believe he and Lesley did anything special raising their son.
There were reminders not to believe he was better than anyone and to not boast.
"That's kind of our philosophy. We don't talk about this and that," Chris said. "He handled it from the first time we talked and he was a younger kid. We really didn't have to reiterate it to him. He got it from the beginning."
"It's something that surrounded me with the people I was with, the friends and mentors I had growing up," Stamkos said. "It was pretty much the same message, so it was easy for me to follow."
Stamkos got similar messages from Paul Titanic, his minor hockey coach from ages 9 to 16, and team manager Stephen Gaunce.
"We demanded the kids be respectful of everything around the game, whether it be teammates, coaches, opponents, parents, referees," Titanic said. "We were going to treat everybody well and be known as a team that did it the right way."
But give Stamkos credit, Titanic said. He has handled media scrutiny since age 15, when he became one of Canada's hottest prospects with 105 goals in 67 games for his midget team.
"It was always demanded by his parents not to be big-headed and arrogant, but the bottom line is that's just not Steven's nature," Titanic said. "He recognizes his own abilities, but he really wants to be like everyone else."
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That, of course, is impossible.
The No. 1 overall draft choice of 2008 leads the NHL with 21 goals, 10 power-play goals and 20 power-play points. His 39 points are second to Sidney Crosby's 41, and he entered Monday tied for sixth with 18 assists. That is after tying Crosby with 51 goals for last season's league lead.
He has been on the cover of Canada's Hockey News. Sports Illustrated writer Michael Farber hung around him for two days. A crew from Sweden did an extensive television interview. And the Toronto Sun put Stamkos on the front of its sports section and called him THE story of the first quarter of the season.
"He's new, he's big, and he's a Toronto area kid," Sun reporter Lance Hornby said. "When kids like this do well, it's like one of their own do well."
Through it all, Stamkos has been gracious and accommodating, and his game hasn't missed a beat, though for the second time this season he has gone two straight games without a goal.
"It's just respect, basic respect," Stamkos said. "You respect people and what they do, and they're going to respect what you do."
"He's been brought up well," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "He's had quite a bit of attention since the age of 15. I've seen how he handles himself. He's a polite young man."
Especially when asked about, perhaps, if he gets hot again, scoring 50 goals in 50 games.
"Only about 1,000 times that 50-50 question comes up," Stamkos said. "It's pretty much the same answer every time."
Gagne travels: Simon Gagne, out 18 games with a strained neck, is with the team in Toronto. No word if the left wing will play.